Stranger Things (Netflix)
The buzziest show of the year, Stranger Things is an unrepentant love letter to the 1980s. The story – essentially The Goonies Go Monster Hunting – is sharp and suspenseful, but you’ll have most fun spotting references. Almost every scene contains an overt nod to a classic film. Stand By Me. Carrie. ET. Under the Skin. A Nightmare on Elm Street. Minority Report. Aliens. Great to watch if you enjoy feeling smarter than the people you’re watching with.
Mr Robot (Amazon)
Mr Robot arrived out of nowhere last year. Originally broadcast on an American network most known for its professional wrestling output, it somehow beat the odds and made Best of 2015 lists everywhere. Featuring a star-making turn by Rami Malek – who similarly seemed to arrive out of nowhere, despite playing King Ahkmenrah in the Night at the Museum movies – this cyber-thriller about a paranoid hacker is bold and disorientating. Happily, the second series is just as good as the first.
An endless number of shows have attempted to satirise the world of reality TV in the past, but none do it as well as UnREAL. This is because, where previous efforts have been comedies intent on ramping up the genre’s absurdities, UnREAL gives it the peak TV treatment. It’s an out-and-out drama, set behind the scenes on a Bachelorette-style dating show, and follows a producer’s long, slow fight to retain a scrap of dignity while culture bottoms out around her. UnREAL feels like a true peek behind a horrible curtain.
BoJack Horseman (Netflix)
Ostensibly an animated sitcom about a funny horse, yet BoJack Horseman is one of the most depressing things you will ever watch. The lead character is bitter, washed up and alone, and surrounded by the only people in the world who are less likeable than he is. Things get bleaker and bleaker with almost every passing episode, to the point where it’s been described as one of the most authentic shows ever made about depression and self-loathing. Again, it’s an animated sitcom about about a funny horse.
The new series from Robert and Michelle King, who you will know as the creators of The Good Wife. Like The Good Wife, this is a soapy, insidery look at the machinations of power. Unlike The Good Wife, it’s a Washington-set science-fiction show about a swarm of space-ants that crawl inside your ears and make your brain explode. No, really. The series isn’t over yet, so new episodes are added weekly, but even without the complete picture it seems evident that BrainDead is comfortable with its own weirdness.
The Girlfriend Experience (Amazon)
The television remake of Steven Soderbergh’s ambient 2009 prostitution drama is really something special. It expands the premise in every single direction until it becomes a rich – if evasive – study of control. The first episodes, the ones where the lead character embarks on a cookie-cutter exploration of the sex industry, are admittedly slow. Keep watching, though, because the intrigue and suspense keep building in unexpected ways as the series goes on, until everything culminates in one of the most perfectly unconventional finales you will ever see.
The Americans (Amazon)
The show that ITV couldn’t get you to watch is now available in its entirety to stream. And, really, you need to stream it. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys play Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, a normal 1980s couple getting on with their normal 1980s lives. Except they’re actually Russian spies tasked by Moscow to infiltrate and kill key targets. Although it sometimes borders on unintentional camp – the wig budget alone must have been astronomical – The Americans is gripping and almost suffocatingly taut. It has been called “the best show you haven’t watched”. Rectify this.
Bloodline hasn’t quite managed to fight its way to the A-list of streaming originals yet, but that isn’t through lack of trying. It has a world-class cast, including Sam Shepard, Sissy Spacek, Kyle Chandler, Ben Mendelsohn and Linda Cardellini. The pacing is as slow and sticky as its Florida setting. It’s framed with a device so clever that you’ll find yourself wanting to watch the next episode even if you don’t want to. The whole thing is perpetually in danger of boiling over into intrigue and deception and murder. Bloodline isn’t everyone’s thing, but it’s worth a shot.
Son of a Bitch (Walter Presents)
A Brazilian import about a professional football referee in over his head. He cheated on his wife, so she left him for her divorce lawyer. He starts to feel his age, so he experiments with performance-enhancing drugs. The stench of corruption follows his every move. What makes Son of a Bitch special is the way that all these disparate storylines coalesce into a football sequence at the end of each episode. Little watched, this one, but masterfully executed.
Despite its objectively awful name, iZombie has an awful lot going for it. A woman accidentally becomes a zombie at a boat party, and takes a job at a morgue to satiate her appetite for the brains of recently deceased murder victims. However, each brain gives her an insight into its owner’s life, so she does the decent thing and helps the police solve their murders. It’s Quantum Leap, but about a brain-eating zombie. I cannot believe you aren’t watching this already.